Battsek To Helm Miramax; Disney Exec Coming to America for Indiewood Post
by Eugene Hernandez
Walt Disney Studios chairman Dick Cook has named Daniel Battsek, an EVP and Managing Director of the company's Buena Vista International (BVI) unit in the UK, to lead its Indiewood division Miramax Films. The widely anticipated move will officially take effect on October 1, 2005 after the departure of Miramax founders Bob and Harvey Weinstein, but Battsek will immediately begin building his team and adding to the slate of releases unveiled Monday.
Battsek, in a conversation with indieWIRE, confirmed that he would soon move to New York City from London to begin implementing plans for the new Miramax. As President of Miramax Films he will report to studio head Cook (the Weinsteins reported to Disney chairman Michael Eisner who was recently replaced by Bob Iger). Disney said Monday that Battsek will head all Miramax Films operations, including creative, acquisitions, production, distribution, marketing and publicity, and the studio emphasized that Miramax would operate independently, based at a headquarters in NYC.
Explaining that it is a bit too soon to offer specific plans for the Disney unit, Battsek declined to offer details on budgets, numbers of films or staff plans, but expressed enthusiasm about the new post within the Disney studio. And the company confirmed some of the films that are on its new slate, including the acquisition of Scott Marshall's "Lucky 13," the story of a teenager (played by "Spy Kid" Daryl Sabarra) and the relationship between his father and grandfather (played by Jeremy Piven and the director's dad, Gary Marshall, respectively). The film was an audience award winner this year at the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival.
Comedic fare seems to be a particularly strong interest for Battsek. He created the BVI UK Comedy Label, which produced Mel Smith's "High Heels and Low Lifes" in 2001, Mark Herman's "Hope Springs" and Nigel Cole's "Calendar Girls" from 2003, and Julian Jarrold's upcoming "Kinky Boots," also booked for the new Miramax release slate. The comedy/musical starring Chiwetel Ejiofor is the story of a cabaret singer aiming to help a mild-mannered shoemaker save his business. It will have its world premiere next month at the Edinburgh International Film Festival.
"I am very honored and extremely excited about the opportunity that is being given me in this particular role," Battsek told indieWIRE. "I feel that my background and experience is going to be a very good foundation for being able to continue the fantastic work that has been done to create the Miramax brand."
The unit is expected to target lower budget ranges than were seen in the latter years of the Weinstein's involvement with Miramax. Other projects on the new Miramax slate include Ben Affleck's directorial debut "Gone Baby Gone" based on the Dennis Lehane novel of the same name (co-written by Affleck and Lehane), Lasse Hallstrom's "Hoax" with Richard Gere, and collaborations with The Weinstein Company on Anthony Minghella's "Breaking and Entering," Mikael Hafstrom's "Derailed," Richard Shepard's "The Matador" and Stephen Frears' "Mrs. Henderson."
"Daniel is a remarkable leader as proven by his dynamic and award- winning executive team," said Disney studio chief Dick Cook in a statement Monday. "Their unprecedented success throughout the UK can be attributed to Daniel's savvy business sense, combined with his inspired enthusiasm, team spirit and great taste in material. His long rich history with The Walt Disney Studios where he has been involved in distribution, marketing, acquisition and production gives him a keen understanding of our goals as we further build upon the prestigious heritage of the Miramax name."
In 1991, Disney tapped Battsek to form a UK company as part of the studio's Buena Vista International worldwide distribution network and he joined the company officially in 1992. Disney noted in Monday's announcement that he was involved with the acquisition of distribution rights for such films as "Muriel's Wedding," "Shine," "Central Station," "Kolya," and "The Ice Storm." As the head of the UK company, he oversaw some 35 films per year from Disney, Touchstone and Miramax.
Battsek is a former managing director of Palace Pictures and began his career at The Hoyts Film Corporation in Australia. He is a graduate of Oxford Polytechnic.